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Mobile retail trends to watch out for in 2016

As brands continue leveraging mobile to bridge the gap between the physical and digital worlds, consumers can expect to see several trends play a critical role in retail-related commerce this year, including virtual reality, gamification and reliance on wearables.

Mobile is steadily establishing itself as a top pillar of retail, aiding brands in maintaining their stronghold over consumers by becoming an in-store shopping companion as well as an offline purchasing device. Several key trends will play a starring role in retail this year, showcasing how marketers must evolve in the digital space if they want to stay competitive.

“Mobile and all things related to mobile would be number one,” said Pat Dermody, president of Retale, Chicago. “The customers’ increasing expectation to navigate seamlessly across channels would be number two.

“We saw this manifest in services like buy online, pickup in-store,” she said. “Number three would be the increase in mobile pay options, which could hurt or help adoption.

“Multiple players and greater fragmentation doesn’t necessarily mean more scale. More options can be confusing for consumers.”

Branching out
Whereas many retailers opted to target shoppers on their smartphones in 2015, this year’s strategy is likely to include audience outreach on several digital platforms, including wearables. Retale taps millennials as the most coveted loyal customers for many brands. Millennials also belong to the demographic primarily fueling wearable adoption.

Consequently, retailers would be well-suited to integrate wearable devices to augment in-store shopping. Offering mobile payment options on smartwatches is one step to achieving this goal, and is a tactic that financial marketers have already dipped their toes into this year.

As of this past summer, American Express card holders in the United States are able to make purchases using a wearable fitness tracker with an embedded NFC chip, pointing to the potential for wearables to transform commerce (see story).

Additionally, brands with heavy bricks-and-mortar footprints, such as department stores, should continue their efforts to roll out beacons so that proximity-based messages can be sent to passersby’s wearable devices.

If consumers in the vicinity of a flagship store receive a notification on their smartwatch alerting them of a major sale or welcome offer, they will be much more likely to take the plunge and wander inside.

“You have more players in the beacon space now than you did a year ago,” Ms. Dermody said. “Also, the beacon companies see not just the front-end opportunity in monetizing messages to shoppers, but also the back-end opportunity to building attribution models and data platforms.

“These capabilities will only evolve in 2016, as scale increases and the opportunities to monetize beacons grow in tandem.”

Shoppers can also expect to see more mobile devices used by in-store sales associates. Equipping employees with smartphones or tablets gives them the opportunity to look up additional inventory, place orders for item styles and colors not available in-store and search for product information when customers have a specific question.

This new form of omnichannel connectivity is designed to make the purchasing process more seamless for shoppers, especially those who seek to maximize their time while browsing in bricks-and-mortar locations.

Virtual reality and gamification
Gamification within mobile loyalty programs and virtual reality as a form of marketing will soon take the stage as two must-have strategies.

“VR is likely to have a lot of buzz in Q1, especially in the gaming space,” Ms. Dermody said. “Retailers will continue to experiment with it both as a marketing tool and as a part of the customer experience.”

Since Facebook and YouTube introduced 360-video along with hardware devices from Google, Samsung and Microsoft, marketers are stepping up efforts to leverage virtual reality to connect with consumers, showing the technology’s potential even beyond gaming (see story).

Auto manufacturer Volvo leveraged virtual reality to bring the test drive experience to consumers at home, mimicking the feel of riding in one of its vehicles on the open road. This resulted in a significant effect on sales for the brand, suggesting that other automotive marketers may follow suit in 2016.

Meanwhile, mobile gamification is set to enjoy upward growth, particularly where rewards programs are concerned.

Taco Bell is introducing an in-app loyalty program with a gamification-heavy focus on rewarding customers for repeat ordering and engaging on social media (see story).

Retailers can easily incorporate these types of strategies into their own apps or marketing efforts – provided they have the right team of executives maintaining a mobile-first outlook.

“Only 25 percent of brands surveyed believe their organizations are ready to adapt to future shopping channels and only 29 percent of brands agreed they know how to capitalize on the growing ecommerce and mobile commerce markets,” said Rob Gonzalez, co-founder and vice president of business development at Salsify, Boston.

“Organizations will need to appoint a head of ecommerce and omnichannel to understand, respond to and predict shifts in consumer shopping behavior across mobile, social and other new channels.”

Final Take
Alex Samuely, staff writer on Mobile Commerce Daily, New York